For a fresh and healthy summer recipe, you’ll love my chicken pesto pasta salad! It’s full of great flavors, packed with veggies, and topped with simple grilled chicken thighs.
Are you ready for some more fun grilled recipes? Ones with plenty of veggies too? And of course great Mediterranean flavors! Me too! It’s time to put aside our winter comfort foods and dive into a plate of roasted caprese salad or spring panzanella or this yummy pesto pasta salad.
Yep, summer is on its way for me here and I’ve been loving this pasta pesto salad with grilled chicken! It has everything I want in summer recipe. Easy, fast, great made ahead, and not weighed down by heavy sauces. What more could I ask for?
How do you make chicken pesto pasta salad?
To make chicken pesto pasta salad toss cooked pasta and vegetables with pesto sauce and pasta water, then top with grilled chicken and toasted pine nuts.
Grill the chicken thighs
I get things started by salting the chicken and then setting it aside while I get organized, do the prep, and heat the grill. This gives the chicken a little time to brine before I cook it, which gives the meat better flavor and helps keep it juicy. (If I’m organized I pull out the package and salt the chicken in the morning.)
Once the chicken is salted and the grill is hot, grill the chicken, turning once, until the chicken is cooked through. Take it off the grill and let it rest for a few minutes, then slice it up.
Cook the pasta and asparagus
While the grill is heating, get the pasta water going. Then add the pasta, taking 2 minutes off the time the cook the pasta. (If it says the pasta will cook in 10 minutes, set your timer for 8 minutes!) Then add the asparagus and set the timer for that last 2 minutes.
Here’s an important bit: Scoop out some pasta water just before you drain it!
Toss the pasta salad together
Take your hot pasta and asparagus and toss it with the pesto, balsamic, and some of that pasta water. Stir vigorously to make sure everything is incorporated and that heat of the pasta can bring the pesto and water together. This will give you a sauce which will cling to the pasta.
At this point you can toss all the rest of the ingredients in, or lay them all on top, or do a little bit of each. Up to you! I do think that the pine nuts on top at least is nice so you can see them.
Variations of pesto pasta salad to try
- Use other vegetables such as: sliced summer squash, broccoli, chopped eggplant, or thinly sliced bell peppers
- Grill, roast, or saute the vegetables to add another layer of flavor
- Add some mayonnaise to the pesto to make a creamy sauce for the pasta
- Make a pesto variation in place of the usual basil pesto
- Pesto with other herbs such as parsley or mint
- Pesto with sundried tomatoes
- Pesto with olives, such as my Green Olive Pesto
If you try my recipe for Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad, I would love to hear from you in the comments with your experience and rating! And I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
– Happy Eating, Annemarie
Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- kosher salt and black pepper
- 16 oz fusilli, or other short pasta such as penne or rotini
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths
- 1 cup prepared pesto
- 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2-3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
- fresh basil leaves, optional
- Liberally sprinkle the chicken thighs with kosher salt and few grinds of black pepper. Let the chicken brine while you prep the rest of dinner.
- Preheat your grill to high heat.
- Grill the thighs on high for 5-6 minutes, then turn grill for another 5-6 minutes, or until they are about 165F in the middle.
- Set the chicken aside to rest and cool.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions minus 2 minutes.
- Add the asparagus and cook the pasta and asparagus together for 2 minutes.
- Scoop out about 1 cup of pasta water then drain and transfer the pasta and asparagus to a large bowl.
- Add the pesto, balsamic vinegar, and about 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the bowl. Toss to coat the pasta with the pesto sauce. Spash in more water a little at a time if you need it until you have a smooth and silky sauce.
- Add the tomatoes and mix in.
- Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and slice into bite sized pieces. Arrange the chicken over the top of the pasta salad.
- Sprinkle the pine nuts over it all. Add some basil leaves if desired. Serve.
- Toasting the pine nuts: Toast the pine nuts at 325F for 3-4 minutes. Keep a close eye since they burn easily.
- Brining the chicken: For the best flavor, salt the chicken in the morning or the night before and let the chicken brine in the fridge.
- Pesto: For a quick dinner, use storebought pesto. If you want to use homemade pesto, this recipe is wonderful with my Homemade Green Olive Pesto.
- Cheese: If you would like some cheese in the pasta salad, I would recommend using fresh mozzarella, either diced or some of those small cherry sized balls.